Win! (2016)

‘Win!’ (2016) is a good documentary and not an infomercial

Last week, the NYCFC documentary Win! showed up on the NY Yankees YES cable channel. I reluctantly did my duty, because after all, who wants to watch a movie with an exclamation point in the title?

Surprise surprise, Win! is pretty entertaining due to its character-driven focus. I suspected the film would just be subliminal marketing, a movie of ManCity propaganda relaying the message that NYCFC = another Winning team in the franchise. Yes, it is that, but it is also worth watching.

A fly on the wall documentary

Based on the strength of his 2003 Barça! The Inside Story (and despite the exclamation point), Writer-Director Justin Webster was asked by CEO Ferran Soriano to document NYCFC’s inaugural season and the process of building an MLS team from scratch. Webster filmed hundreds of hours over months and captured fly on the wall footage as Sporting Director Claudio Reyna and Coach Jason Kreis built an MLS team from scratch, starting with the signing of David Villa.

David Villa comes off strongest in the film. You end up believing he is a hard-working regular guy who puts team and job first. While waiting for MLS to start, he agrees to be a 10-game guest player in the Australian A-League (he ended up only playing 4 winless games). He speaks no English at signing, but by the end of the film, he is joking in understandable English with teammates. The official language of NYCFC is Bad English: any kind of English, any kind of accent.

MLS nerds will be most interested in the insider view of an expansion draft. E.g., Kreis wants Ned Grabavoy, although he cautions that Grabavoy is the kind of player who is going to be injured at least 3 weeks during the season. Although the way Kreis says it, it looks like he’s really thinking 3-6 weeks downtime. It’s fascinating to watch the staff discuss potential players in this manner.

Claudio Reyna comes off as a middle manager yielding player decisions to the corporate dictates of City Football Group. CFG owns 4 football clubs, of which NYCFC is the second after Manchester City FC. CFG owns 80% of NYCFC, and the NY Yankees own 20%. Sheikh Mansour owns most of CFG, having sold 13% to Chinese investors in Dec-2015.

Jason Kreis comes off the worst, but was he really to blame?

In this documentary, Jason Kreis comes off the worst. His moments on film contradict what I expect from a man who scored 107 MLS goals. His strength is knowing MLS well, but he appears diffident about his coaching system and exhibits little leadership qualities. The film seems to confirm what I’ve read about Kreis, that he was deliberate and analytic at RSL. With his passive self-effacing demeanor, his pre-game is jarringly incongruous when he shouts from the center of a locker room huddle:

“Who’s going to be the f***g dick out there tonight? Who’s going to be the dick?”

– an inspirational (?) Jason Kreis

So you know someone’s head has to roll, when David Villa says during a tough part of the season:

“11 matches without a win? Never in my career!”

– a frustrated David Villa

The film follows the full 2015 season but ends with some slides that describe Kreis’ post-season termination and then summarize the team’s 2016 season under Patrick Viera. It makes me wonder if the film was edited to demonstrate why Kreis was fired.

Yes, Lampard’s late arrival to the team, and in an injured state, made Kreis less likely to succeed. But I think his lifelong tendency to obsess about improvement and to believe that success would naturally follow, was antithetical to CFG’s mission. They just want to Win!.

Frank Lampard and Pirlo have little screen time in the film. And I want to know why the team has to stand in an ice bath.

Other fly on the wall documentaries

If you like this film, Chivas USA: Sí, se puede (2005) follows the first year of that team. The Four Year Plan (2011) about QPR is an excellent fly on the wall documentary. Justin Webster also directed an earlier soccer movie called The Ref (L’arbitro), which I haven’t seen yet.

An update on City Football Group’s true ownership

Note on Dec-30-2017 Update: Human Rights researcher Nicholas McGeehan wrote an article for Medium which revealed the true nature of the City Group ownership. He contends that the real owner is Sheikh Mansour’s brother: Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. CFG ownership allows the Prince to put a progressive face on a government that has problems with women, homosexuality, Israel, and abuse by the wealthy.

CFG “enables Abu Dhabi to gain footholds in centres of power and influence, and provide a platform for the pursuit of further business opportunities which themselves consolidate and strengthen Abu Dhabi’s political influence.”

– Human Rights researcher Nicholas McGeehan

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7